Friday, April 8, 2011

Meaning of Efficiency: To His Coy Mistress

Efficiency has been an important topic in some circles for a long time. Recently, it has become popularized in certain contexts due to various factors I am not currently inclined to discuss. Instead, I shall be writing on a vaguely efficiency themed topic I find amusing.

Recently I was beset by the beast of literary coursework. My particular incarnation of the beast tries to crush my spirit by blathering on about meter and rhyming schemes and how I should enjoy literature for the way words flow in it. Who in the history of the world has been taught to enjoy the flow of words in a literary work? Discovering that they enjoy literature by being exposed to it is not the same thing. 

As for rhyming and meter, what percentage of the population really needs to be forced to know such things? I have often heard complaints that the math someone is learning is something they will never use once they get out of school. That may well be true, but at least the basics of that discipline are useful to everyone, and the higher tiers are useful to a wide variety of career choices.

If I am ever wealthy beyond everyone else's wildest dreams (I must use theirs, for my own dreams hold precious little avarice) I do believe I will found a musical hamburger stand chain. All of the equipment will be operated by reading and singing poetry in the appropriate meter. Just so that anyone that wants the scansion skills forced on them to finally have a purpose may have their wish fulfilled.

Before you accost me in the street for insulting your precious literature, know that I do find value in older works. Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton, these are authors I have found interesting, and there have been (and will be) more. In the end my literature course will be a positive thing. I just wish it were a little more honest when works are actually not worth consideration but happen to be famous none the less.

If I happen to find an influential poets' work laughable, that should be a valid answer when anyone, including my teachers, ask. Literature is an utterly subjective topic. It would be far more efficient (Hah! I bet you wondered how I was going to get that back in there. No? Ah well.) to give everyone the history surrounding literature, force them to read a selection of books, then have a nice heated chat about it.

Since it's hard to institute such a regimen in a systematic fashion, I don't hold out much hope for the idea. So in the mean time I answered my exam questions very seriously and will share my true thoughts on a certain poem with you instead. I am not very proud at all to present "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell, with commentary by yours truly:
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
So, let's see... if he had enough time, he would complain for a long time. So we can infer he was feeling rushed in his schedule of whining.  He compares his love to a vegetable, but fails to specify which one. I like to think it would be an enormous parsnip. I'm not precisely sure why. Also, even if he had until the end of the world, he would spend four times as long admiring the breasts belonging to the object of his parsnipian affection than her face. I wonder if honesty won him any bonus points.

        But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

After that rousing beginning, he turns rather morose. I hope whoever the mistress was left him after this. Surely if the breasts thing didn't get her, hearing about how everyone is going to die and worms will find her quite tasty did. The fact that he thinks he hears winged chariots is just extra. Perhaps no one told him that normal crazy people hear voices.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

I don't think there is much of a way to dress the last section up after the first two. The guy wants sex, and would like somebody to be quick about it. I thought poets were supposed to be sensitive intellectual types, deep thinkers, even? Why this fellow was remotely influential is beyond my powers of comprehension. Feel free to explain my ignorance to me in the comments if you want. Pronunciations of agreement and/or muffin recipes are also acceptable.

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